Oak Hall Falls Victim To Massive Sixth Inning From St. Joseph In Heartbreaking District Championship Loss

Baseball is a game of many emotions. Happiness. Excitement. Anticipation. Shock. Disappointment. Sorrow. A couple of big plays can cause a shift across this emotional spectrum in the blink of an eye. Moments like these make baseball a beautiful game. It can also make it a painful one. The Oak Hall Eagles fell victim to the latter this past Thursday.

In a highly contested District Championship matchup with the St. Joseph Academy Flashes, the Eagles just fell short in a heartbreaking 7-4 loss. Oak Hall hung on to a slim lead for the first five innings of the game. Nevertheless, St. Joseph responded with a massive seven-run outing in the sixth inning. Despite putting up a fight, Oak Hall could not claw their way back into the game.

Oak Hall had numerous standout performers across the roster during Thursday’s championship match. The team only recorded five hits throughout the game, but they made them count. Neil Ruth and Jack Kuzmicki each recorded a double. Harrison Beach also picked up a massive triple in the fifth inning. Kuzmicki and Beach ended up driving in two runs each for the Eagles. Ruth collected two stolen bases for Oak Hall as well. 

Harrison Beach slides into third base following an error from St. Joseph’s pitcher in the first inning.

The Eagles also saw standout pitcher Troy Freeman record another strong outing on the mound. In five innings pitched, Freeman allowed four hits, three runs (two earned runs) and two walks. He also finished the day with five strikeouts. 

Squeezing Out An Early Run To Strike First

Oak Hall immediately picked up some steam in the first inning. Freeman successfully sat down St. Joseph’s top of the order with ease. It only took a pop out, ground out and a strikeout looking for the Eagles to kick this one off the right way. 

Knowing they had an opportunity to take the lead, Oak Hall quickly went to work at the plate. Harrison Beach knocked in a hard ground ball that went right between the first baseman’s leg to get on the bag. Soon after that, he stole second base; St. Joseph’s pitcher later overthrew the second baseman, allowing Beach to advance to third as well. 

Up next to bat: Jack Kuzmicki. Kuzmicki has racked up his fair share of big-time plays at the plate this season. Once again, he proved himself as Oak Hall’s mailman: He always delivers. Kuzmicki belted a ground ball over to St. Joseph’s second baseman. While the Flashes tagged Kuzmicki out at first, Beach scored on the play.

The Flashes walked the subsequent batter before eventually ending the inning with a strikeout. However, the Eagles had capitalized on the opportunities presented to them. With Beach finding his way to third base and Kuzmicki successfully bringing him home, Oak Hall had opened up the game with a 1-0 lead. 

“We have five tools in baseball, and hitting has been mine,” Kuzmicki said. “That’s what I do to help the team the most, [I] just swing the bat well.”

Some Pizzazz On Defense Staves Off St. Joseph’s Offense

With the Eagles now in the lead, the Flashes hoped to find a rhythm offensively in the second inning. After their first batter immediately grounded out, St. Joseph junior Gavin Morhman engaged in a lengthy battle with Freeman. Morhman picked up his first strike looking before knocking out two foul balls. Freeman threw a ball. Morhman hit his third foul ball of the at-bat. Freeman then threw out another two balls. The count now sat at 3-2.

Then Morhman hit another foul ball. Then another one. And another one. Yet another one. Boom, another one. He wound up hitting out five consecutive foul balls, extending his plate appearance to 13 pitches. Finally, he hit a powerful line drive over to Harrison Beach at shortstop. Despite the velocity of the ball, Beach managed to scoop it up, spin around and make a perfectly positioned throw over to first base. To Morhman’s (and nearly everyone else’s) surprise, he was tagged out at the bag.

Beach’s spectacular play blew away spectators from both fanbases and left the Flashes dugout speechless. Even Eagles Head Coach Kevin Maris could not believe what he had just seen. A couple of Oak Hall players joked that they had thought the ball went past Beach until they saw him making the throw to first. Beach concurred that, for a second, even HE could not believe the play he had just made.

“I didn’t think I had the ball in my glove until I saw it there,” Beach said. “So I was like, ‘Oh shoot, I need to throw it.’ I just took my time, I saw the runner was halfway there… And I got him out.”

Even More Highlights For Oak Hall’s Infield Unit

It appeared that Beach’s highlight moment lit a fire under the rest of the Eagles’ defense. The team put forth an impressive performance in the subsequent innings. Oak Hall only allowed two hits and two walks between the second and fifth inning. Freeman also racked up four strikeouts during that stretch.

Out of the four St. Joseph’s batters to make it on base during those innings, two of them were tagged out on the bases. One runner was picked off at first base, while the other was caught stealing at second base. The Eagles’ infield communication helped the team avoid any major mishaps and keep the Flashes off the board until the sixth inning.

However, while the infield had been clicking on all cylinders, Freeman’s pitching served as the glue to keep the team’s defense operating. In his first five innings on the mound, Freeman gave up zero runs to the Flashes. Additionally, no runners advanced past second base during this stretch. Between his awareness of the baserunners behind him and his dominance of the batters facing him, Freeman could do very little wrong early on in this one.

When asked about his mindset throughout Thursday’s game, Freeman kept his answer short and simple.

“I just wanted to throw strikes,” Freeman said. “That’s always my goal.”

Oak Hall’s Offense Awakens In The Fifth Inning

Kuzmicki blasts out a deep hit that gave him his 11th double on the season.

While the Eagles’ defense had started off red-hot, their offense could not get anything going after the first inning. From the second inning to the fourth inning, the Eagles only recorded one hit and one walk. However, the offense finally began to unthaw in the bottom of the fifth inning.

After picking up a fly out in their first plate appearance of the inning, the Eagles recorded back-to-back singles courtesy of Brody Beaupre and Aaron Akins. Akins was tagged out at second on a fielder’s choice, but Andrew McManis (who pinch ran for Beaupre) advanced to third base. Harrison Beach stepped into the batter’s box, and he did not waste any time with his at-bat.

On the first pitch he saw, Beach knocked a deep fly ball into left field. The crowd rose to their feet, anticipating if the left fielder would track it down. However, his attempts to locate the ball proved to be futile as it dropped fair. Beach swiftly rounded the bases as both of Oak Hall’s runners cruised home. He eventually landed at third base. The crowd (and the Oak Hall dugout) went wild.

Immediately after Beach’s triple, Kuzmicki added some fuel to the Eagles’ fire. After letting the first pitch he saw go by, Kuzmicki blasted a ball into deep center field. The ball bounced off the outfield fence as Kuzmicki turned the first base corner. He stayed put at second base as Beach made his way home as well. In the span of just two plate appearances, the Eagles had taken full control and jumped out to a 4-0 lead.

Some Big At-Bats From St. Joseph’s Shake Things Up

However, Oak Hall did not remain in the driver’s seat for long. St. Joseph responded with some instant offense in the top of the sixth inning. After the Eagles’ defense gave up two hits and allowed a runner to reach first on an error, the Flashes swiftly loaded the bases. Hoping to generate some defensive momentum to halt St. Joseph’s impending takeover, Oak Hall elected to take Freeman off the mound.

Ethan Szlachetka attempts to steal home plate in a close call with St. Joseph’s catcher.

They replaced him with Ethan Szlachetka, the team’s go-to closer this season. Prior to Thursday’s game, Szlachetka had maintained a 1.981 ERA with a record of three wins and zero losses. However, not even the Eagles’ strongest reliever could slow down St. Joseph’s offense. After a Flashes runner scored off of a passed ball, Szlachetka walked two consecutive runners; the latter walk inadvertently drove in another run for St. Joseph.

Szlachetka composed himself and struck out the following St. Joseph batter. There was hope amongst the crowd that the Eagles would pull through and escape the inning with the lead. However, that hope quickly diminished as Flashes senior Michael Delverne belted out a line drive into center field, driving in two runs for St. Joseph. After the Eagles intentionally walked the following batter, Szlachetka picked up his second strikeout of the inning.

Now with two outs on the board, Oak Hall still had a chance to keep the game manageable. Despite the bases being loaded, they only needed one more out to keep the game tied. Eli Robshaw took the plate for St. Joseph. Szlachetka initially got the upper hand, with the count sitting at 1-2 early in the at-bat. However, after two balls from Szlachetka, Robshaw blasted a deep ball of his own into center field. As the Eagles outfield scrambled to corral the ball, all three St. Joseph runners scored. Robshaw landed on second base.

The Flashes dugout went wild celebrating, while one could hear a pin drop in the Eagles dugout. Despite picking up out number three in the following at-bat, the Eagles knew that the damage had been done. After scoring seven straight runs, the Flashes had now taken a 7-4 lead.

A Rocky Finish Seals The Eagles’ Fate

Despite the dire circumstances, the Eagles refused to give in. Up until the final out, a spirit of resilience could be felt in the team’s dugout. Every player in the dugout knew they still had a chance to fight their way back into the game. They just needed an offensive spark.

Unfortunately, that spark eluded the Eagles at the plate in their final two innings. In their final six at-bats, no Oak Hall runner made it onto the bases. The Eagles did have some close calls in the final innings that nearly gave them some hope. In their first plate appearance in the bottom of the sixth, Freeman drilled a beautiful line drive towards right field. However, St. Joseph’s second baseman made an impressive grab to sit Freeman back down.

In the seventh inning, the Eagles nearly had two men reach first base with a pair of ground balls. Unfortunately for them, the Flashes infield let nothing past them, and both batters were tagged out at first base. The latter gave St. Joseph their third out of the inning, officially clinching their District Championship win.

Coach Maris acknowledged his disappointment with the end result of the game. However, he remained proud of his team and the game they played. If it was not for the sixth inning implosion, the Eagles very likely would have come out on top.

“We let them have a big inning that made the difference in the game. In baseball, you can’t allow that to happen very often,” Maris said. “I don’t think we swung the bat as consistently as we have in the past, but there’s going to be games like that. I thought we still played a solid game, just had one inning that took it away.”

Holding Out Hope For Regionals

The Eagles have faced adversity before and tackled it head on. The team hopes that Tuesday’s loss will just be a road bump in their postseason journey.

Despite their district championship loss, the Eagles will still very likely make an appearance in this year’s Class 2A State Tournament. As the runner up in their district, Oak Hall will need to be selected for one of their region’s “at-large” tournament berths. Based on their record this season and their state ranking, the Eagles will very likely qualify for one of these seeds. The official seeding will be announced in the coming days.

Needless to say, the Eagles are disappointed with the results of this year’s Districts Tournament. However, barring a surprise from the bracket selection process, their season is still not over. Multiple players noted they believe the team did not play as well as they could have in Tuesday’s loss. If the Eagles can reach their peak performance level, the sky is the limit for their appearance in the Regional tournament.

“We know we’re a good team… We lost this game, but it doesn’t really matter if we advance,” Kuzmicki said. “I think we’ll do some damage in the postseason. We’ll get the bats awake. We’ll be the team that we are, not the team that we were today.”

About Jack Meyer

Jack Meyer is a first-year student at the University of Florida. He is majoring in Journalism and specializing in Sports and Media.

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